Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 32-33 (April 1999) p. 119.


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Television and the National Culture1

D M. Madhava Pmsad

As a cultural phenomenon, the source of television's distinction has often been traced to the novelty of the field of reception that it brings into existence. In the words of Stephen Heath,

"[W]e need... to understand the institution [of television] in respect of its fundamental universalizing function, universalizing not in the sense of the creation of some one coherent subject, some representative reason for its orders, but in that, more basically, of the universalization of the function of reception. Television exists first and foremost as availability, as saying everything to everyone, all of us receivers." (Heath, cited injoyrich, p. 3).

Two senses of "universalizing" are invoked here. Universality understood as "the creation of some one coherent subject" refers to the modern political universal, where the subject as citizen operates as a central mechanism of a social revolution. Television's universalizing function is different, involving the production of a generalized state of receptivity among subjects. In other words. Heath is linking television's work to the market as the other universality of the capitalist world. The condition of constant readiness for consumption that the market seeks to create has its cultural equivalent in the condition of receptivity that television induces in subjects. Heath has elsewhere (Logics) spoken of an emerging conflict between two orders of representation, the political and the economic, with television increasingly offering to the consumer a site of economic representation, one in which the subject finds him/herself invoked as the member of a class. In so doing, television subverts the political order, with its necessary deployment of citizenship as equalizing currency, to create a supplementary representational order where the subject's class position is acknowledged. Thus the problem posed by television, as Heath describes it, is related to the one that has figured in discussions of postmodernity: the fortunes of the political in the moment of postmodernity (I^hareshwar, Zizek).

Reception studies, for which television has proved to be a fertile field, tries to overcome

Numbers 32-33


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